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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Freelance Journalists Close to Receiving the Second AB 5 Exemption

AB 5 author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduces bill to allow exemption

By Evan Symon, February 11, 2020 2:14 am

‘At this point she doesn’t want to look incompetent, so she’s making a lot of corrections.’

 

Another AB 5 exemption would allow freelance journalists and photographers to resume their unlimited by-article pay to resume under a new bill.

Freelance journalists would be the second major group with an exception

AB 1850, authored by AB 5 backer Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), would exempt freelance and independent contractor writers and photographers and remove the controversial ’35 content submissions a year’ rule. Assemblywoman Gonzalez and other lawmakers had been considering such changes since December of last year, before AB 5 was even law.

AB 5, which reclassified what an independent contractor is in California and set new standards on what makes an ’employee’, has had a tumultuous history since being written into law late last year. Many affected groups who stood to lose jobs, money, and the number of employees at a company immediately protested the bill. Truckers and freelance journalists were among the first groups to denounce AB 5 after its signing. Rideshare and delivery groups later joined them, with all three sectors introducing lawsuits, ballot measures, and bills for AB 5 exemptions or removing AB 5 as a law entirely.

After truckers were found to be exempt by California courts in early January, journalists introduced more tactics for an AB 5 overturn. While their lawsuit was denied by a judge, a looming hearing on the request in March as well as a ballot measure overturning AB 5 and a Senate Bill that would overturn AB 5 known as SB 868 becoming active a few weeks ago have kept pressure on lawmakers to grant freelance journalists an exception.

The response from Assemblywoman Gonzalez

In a Tweet, Assemblywoman Gonzalez explained why she changed her turn on this part of AB 5 after months of digging in her heels on the issue.

“Based on dozens of meetings with freelance journalists and photographers, we have submitted language to legislative counsel that we hope to have available next week to put into AB 1850 which will cut out the 35 submission cap & instead more clearly define freelancer journalism,” wrote Assemblywoman Gonzalez on Twitter. “We will move up the B2B language in code to ensure folks understand it is the first exemption and specify that such a exemption is allowable for freelance writers.”

She also apologized to affected freelance journalists, adding in a follow up Tweet:

“For the added stress that has caused anyone, or the feelings of not being heard, I am truly sorry. I am direct & straightforward, passionate about workers’ rights and too busy to directly respond to everyone, but I do listen and I care about getting this right.”

While many freelance journalist groups and AB 5 opponents celebrated the announcement of the bill and seeing her cave-in on a part of a bill she has fought tooth and nail for for months, many have questioned the real reason she has introduced a clean-up bill.

A change of heart

“She was worried about a lot of things,” said San Diego-based political consultant James Mendoza. “She wasn’t worried about losing her current office but she was worried about how this would effect her going forward for sure. Any higher office run she has in the future is going to be marred by this. It helped some people get good jobs, but it costs so many more their livelihoods.”

“Gonzalez also stated, for the journalists, that the 35 cap was completely arbitrary. That showed to many how she didn’t research the industries being affected outside of the rideshare industry. At this point she doesn’t want to look incompetent, so she’s making a lot of corrections. It took meetings, plural, with journalists being effected to tell her why this was such a terrible idea.”

“At this point she’s just salvaging and repairing the bill the best she can, because more parts are being fought over now, with the entire bill now on the line in the courts and in the form of a ballot initiative they’re getting signatures for. This is about correcting her mistake, but now it’s about her own survival and the survival of AB 5. If she takes out the parts that got the most negative response, people who write news for a living being very vocal against the journalist part at that, then it may survive. It may even disarm the lawsuit against it.”

“We have to wait and see on that. For now, another part of AB 5 looks like it’s going to fall off.”

AB 1850, which currently has an enaction date of January 1, 2021, may be changed to update the bill sooner. It is currently awaiting being placed in an Assembly committee. If it’s not fast-tracked, the bill will most likely be heard in committees starting next month.

Evan Symon
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